What is Video?

I don’t know if 2008 is to be the year of video and I won’t attempt to make any predictions but I do think we need to consider what video is. It’s a term to describe a wide variety of genres and formats that only have in common a file extension at best. I know that some think that digital video is a fancy name for Film making. I do see a difference and think that there may be some value in distinguished these differences. Scanning youtube I noticed some common styles/genres. While these are basically how I distinguish between the genre, others may have a different way to categorize.

  • Talking head video  We’re seeing more of this with the advent of vlogs, Ustream, Skype, etc. I don’t have a problem with it. Depending on the circumstance, length, it can add to a message. Dave Cormier’s efforts to do a daily video for 2008 is an example of value added blogging. Webcams now provide a high quality image so this makes the experience better. There are many bad examples on sites like Ustream where people turn on their cameras and just ramble.
  • Screencasts Tools like Jing and Camtasia make this pretty simple. We’re even seeing some innovations beyond the basic tutorial approach. Here’s one about photoshop that offers a unique approach and some humor as well.
  • Caught on tape   Cellphones and Net Sharing type cameras have helped people go directly to video after capturing live events. Certainly many of the best viral videos are simply a case of being at the right place at the right time. This will likely be the most popular genre. Even scripted video might fit into this category if it’s shot in one take and uploaded with no editing. The bride hair cut video is a classic example, although it appears to be a spontaneous event. The low quality resolution of these devices, in particular cellphones can be distracting but in many ways adds to its “viralness”. With no editing, it speaks more about the event than the work of the videographer. Yet now most phones come with video editing software on the phone itself so we may see this format evolve even further.
  • The Slide Show  Probably the most popular format. Gather a collection of photos, add some music and there you have it. Often a very nice way to capture a moment in time. This however, is generally over used and is often best suited to use for a target audience like family or perhaps a classroom. If however, you include narration, from a well designed script, this is the best way to begin introducing students to video. It requires less equipment and horsepower so almost any computer can produce a nice product.
  • The Text Presentation  This is basically the typical powerpoint presentation converted to video. Karl Fisch’s original Did You Know might be the best example.  This is usually a good fit for those who grew up in a text bias world. They tend to relate well to this approach. I think this is hard to do well without some real understanding that text can be a visual medium.  A simple uploaded of a bullet ladened presentation doesn’t cut it. If the creator understands that text must be designed with visual considerations, it can be a powerful medium.
  • The Mash Up  This takes advantage of existing footage where the creator remixes content to tell a new story. I blogged about this recently.  With sites like GorillaSpot, this may be the best place to start with students.
  • The Edited Movie  This is what I’d consider the purest of video. This is the planned, scripted, edited use of moving images. Definitely the most time consuming and there is really no way around it; quality takes time. Most classrooms aren’t willing to devote the time necessary to produce this type of work. Instead, students who produce this, are doing it on their own and learning from the work of others. While this is good, teachers can play a role in moving students to better quality if they begin to engage in learning about what constitutes good work.

So what’s important here is that we choose the method that’s more appropriate for the message. I’ve used all of these methods from time to time but I am bias towards anything that requires a script or at least some editing. I rarely post a picture to flickr without at least an “autofix”, rename and tag.  It just seems to me that we need to be thinking about the quality of work that we share. This blog post does have at least one key idea and certainly offers a perspective worth considering when it comes to writing. One of the other key considerations is length of video. Just like we struggle with the length of posting text online, the same considerations must be used for video. We’ve definitely moved to shorter forms of communication in both writing, speaking and viewing. Like it or not, it’s a fact. So helping students create meaningful pieces, either written or visual is challenging. Educators often value quantity, the web values conciseness. As more and more of our content is going straight online, this is a key issue. We haven’t been all that critical or concerned about video because we haven’t done it enough to either understand what’s good or not or perhaps we’re just so thrilled that we can post anything that quality isn’t a big consideration. Maybe being able to distinguish using these categories can help structure and design more effective learning experiences.

Image: 3692018.05 by torres21

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  • Dean,

    I like the explanation Nikos Theodosakis gives for choosing the term “filmmaking” in his book The Director in the Classroom: How Filmmaking Inspires Learning – “‘filmmaking’ focuses on the process, the construction of visual storytelling, rather than on the technology that makes it possible.”

  • Gail,

    So then is it necessary to distinguish digital storytelling from film making? I tend to to see some differences if only to help people realize that using moving images isn’t the only form of film making.

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  • Is the name really important? Who cares? If you want to call it film-making do so, and if you want to call it digital storytelling, that’s ok too. Those that focus on the name are missing the point. As you know, I’m a supporter of digital storytelling? Why? Because it supports literacies such as writing, visual literacy, project management, network literacy, and understanding intellectual property. Could I call it film-making? Sure, so what. So I’m a proponent on film-making. Let’s get over trying to distinguish what’s different, what its always been called (because that’s so pure and proper and right!), and put the tools and techniques in the hands of kids to tell—their stories.

  • Dean, again, I am drawing from Nikos Theodosakis’s work . Nikos prefers the term filmmaking because it carries with it “a long tradition of visual storytellers”…and is a “collaborative art, requiring dozens of passionate craftspeople to bring abut a focused vision onto the screen. ”

    Last spring, I teamed with some talented teachers in my district to pull off our first-ever Student Film Festival. A colleague from our local cable TV station interviewed one of the students to talk about the place of filmmaking in the classroom – http://www.secctv.org/video_gallery/seva2007/seva07fuentes.mov. What you cannot tell from the clip is that this student is from our district’s lowest socio-economic high school, but was fortunate to have an English teacher who believes fervently that students need opportunities to problem solve, collaborate, and create. In visiting that classroom a number of times prior to the film festival, I heard students refer to their “films” or their “video projects.” I never heard a student once use the term “digital storytelling.” So I don’t know that it’s necessary to distinguish between the two terms, but I do think “filmmaking” is broader and to our students, is perhaps more connected to the real world.

  • Dean,

    Keeping the project concise is a helpful strategy. I have used televison commercials to illustrate to students and teachers how 60 seconds can convey a great deal of information. Even rock video like David Bowie’s Let’s Dance can be utilised to show how 4 minutes can speak volumes.

    I emphasize storyboarding with each video workshop. Teachers (if it is PD) and students storyboard the project. Pencil and paper. Storyboarding provides students with an opportunity to write and draw. They can apply the skills the have acquired in writing and art in a completely new area. I agree with the thoughts of Gail and David.

    Digital video allows them to capture each ‘chapter’ of the storyboard as they wish and the storyboard editing mode in tools such as iMovie (Mac) and (MovieMaker) allows them to take their storyboard and rework it on the fly. Timehsift chapters (clips), repeat chapters, whatever. Take their original storyboard and turn it inside out to see what happens. Manipulate the time and action. Flashbacks, paradoxes, perspectives.

    This process promotes critical thinking and decision making skills. In a team environment it fosters communication, patience and the art of being gracious. If you specify a maximum time limit for the video, say two minutes, this provides additional challenges for the students, especially if they have captured say ten or more minutes of video footage. What to keep? What to discard? imagine if you throw that parameter into the pot after they have captured the footage?

    Just this week Bob Sprankle reviewed the Flip Video camera on the TechLearning blog. http://www.techlearning.com/blog/2008/01/caught_on_video.php This is a cross between a small video camera and a USB thumb drive. Compact, practical and high quality apparently. Given that most mobile phones and digital still cameras have built in video capability one may find the Flip video camera is not high on the acquisition list yet I think the idea is quite neat. http://www.theflip.com/



  • John,

    I also picked up a Flip-like camera this week and will be interested to see if it can produce the type of work and quality it promises.

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  • I think it’s important to recognize the growing range of possibilities that “video” offers. I find the catch-all term “digital storytelling” useful, but digital storytelling isn’t restricted to “video”.

    I can’t overstate how excited I am about the emergence of so many accessible digital formats for telling personal stories, for expressing and sharing what has been learned, for making and sharing observations, for analysis of data, for creative expression, etc. For learners who have struggled, and all too often become disengaged in a traditional text-centric learning environment, it’s incredibly helpful that there are now alternative and engaging modes of expression available. I believe it is important that we make digital storytelling tools available to all learners, and it’s perhaps especially important for those not gifted with traditional academic skills.

    There is a place for teaching the craft of filmmaking in our schools, but probably it is best taught as a specific art in the context of an art class. Most learners simply need tools that will enable them to express themselves effectively. There are many children in our schools who will never take pride in anything they write. I suspect that a significant number of these same children have a more realistic chance of feeling good about something they create with digital technology.

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  • Thank you for delineating different types of video projects. By explaining it simply enough all teachers and students can participate. This article has been included in the digital storytelling carnival: http://tinyurl.com/yqbfyd

  • Thanks for sharing

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